Stefan Matteau has really impressed New Jersey Devils to the point that he will be in the lineup Thursday night to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It will be Matteau's sixth game and that means the first year of his entry level contract now kick in. Matteau had sat out the previous four games as the Devils pondered whether it was best for him to return to junior or keep him in the NHL. That decision has been made and he will take the place of an injured Dainius Zubrus Thursday night against the Lightning.
Matteau, a first eound pick in 2012, can still return to the junior ranks, and it would seem likely that will be an option later on if his ice time drops, but allowing the first year of the contract to kick in really shows how much Matteau has impressed.
“I think (GM Lou Lamoriello) said right from Day 1 that he wasn’t going to let contract status stand in the way if we thought Stef could help us, so that hasn’t factored into the decision,” Coach Pete DeBoer told reporters Thursday. “We’ve got Zubrus out tonight. He’s the next left winger that’s available to us and the most ready to play and he’ll go in.”
DeBoer said Matteau will start the game on the line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. But the coach cautioned that Matteau's spot isn't set in stone
"He’s just got to go and do his thing,” DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “I don’t think by us playing him this game (means) it was a lifetime contract or any guarantee that he was going to be here for the next 40 games. But it’s another opportunity for him to show he’s an NHL player. We really like a lot of the things he does. He’s got to simplify some areas and he’s still learning, but there’s a lot there to work with.”
Zubrus was injured against the Rangers Tuesday night when he was checked into the door of the New Jersey Bench by former Devil Arron Asham.
Defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Peter Harrold will again be healthy scratches for the Devils and Martin Brodeur is expected to start in goal.
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